A Turkish sociologist accused in a fatal 1998 explosion in Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar was acquitted Wednesday of terrorism charges, a decision welcomed by a large group of supporters who had gathered at the city’s Beşiktaş Courthouse.
Pınar Selek had been acquitted of the charges twice before, but both decisions were revoked by the Supreme Court of Appeals, the latest in 2009, and returned to the 12th Istanbul Court for Serious Crimes, which stuck to its original ruling Wednesday.
The court acquitted Selek and Abdülmecit Öztürk and delayed the trial of three other suspects to June 22. Its ruling was cheered by academics, lawyers and representatives of nongovernmental organizations who came to the courthouse to support Selek.
“I am in shock right now. This is a good shock, of course; I feel good. My friends are calling me with screams of joy,” the sociologist, who has been in Germany since 2009, told private news channel NTV in a phone call broadcast live right after the decision. “I am cautious though because I have experienced great disappointments in the 13-year process of the trial. Things we said could not happen happened. But I do not want to think about these things right now. I just want to share this happiness with my friends.”
Explosion in 1998
Seven people were killed and 127 wounded when an explosion occurred in Istanbul’s historical Spice Bazaar on July 9, 1998. The first police statement on the cause of the blast pointed to a gas leak, and when Selek was detained and arrested two days later on a separate matter, the explosion was not mentioned. In the following weeks, however, other people were detained and police pinned the blast on Selek and Öztürk.
Expert reports on the blast contradicted each other, leading the 12th court to rule that there was no solid evidence that the explosion had been caused by a bomb. Selek and Öztürk were acquitted after nearly a decade-long trial, but the Supreme Court of Appeals revoked that decision.
A platform featuring academics, lawyers, journalists and supporters of Selek has said its members believe Selek’s work as a sociologist and writer researching about street children, transsexuals and the Kurdish issue during the days of the bloodiest clashes in the 1990s was the reason she was framed as a co-conspirator in the Spice Bazaar bombing.
Öztürk spoke about the case for the first time this week, telling Ertuğrul Mavioğlu of daily Radikal for the paper’s Wednesday edition that he did not know Selek at the time of the blast and gave her name to police under torture.
When he was detained Aug. 14, 1998, Öztürk was greeted at the police station with the phrase “Welcome, Azad,” he said. “Nobody [outside of my family had] called me Azad until that day. It became clear later,” he added. After the blast, he said, Öztürk’s cousin was detained in the northwestern province of Edirne on suspicion of having a connection to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which some of their relatives had joined.
“My cousin was subjected to heavy torture. He had read about [the Spice Bazaar case] in t